When it comes to breaking new ground through Australia’s Red Centre, this is the route that continues to rumble loud: a week-long adventure from Alice to Uluru, the long way.
Marketed as the Red Centre Way, this scenic journey is definitely the more interesting way to reach Uluru, rumbling off the bitumen at the end of the West MacDonnell Ranges to cut a path through our most famous desert wilderness.
Along the way you’ll stand on the rim of Gosse Bluff and peer into the impact zone of a 600 metre-wide comet, coax yourself to the lip of Kings Canyon, and enjoy starry night bush camping before reaching Uluru in time for a breathtaking champagne sunset at the base of the world’s largest monolith. You might even spot wild camels, dingoes and donkeys roadside.
Rising above vast spinifex plains on the outskirts of Alice Springs, the rugged West MacDonnell Ranges is predicted to become our next World Heritage Area and there’s little wonder why. Carved with slender chasms that harbour hidden waterholes and sacred sites, and providing exceptional national park camping, West MacDonnell (Tyurretye) National Park packs a lot of adventure into one big range.
From Flynn’s Grave (of the Flying Doctors fame) we warm up on the bush cycleway to Simpsons Gap, breaking out the bikes for an easy, breezy 17km of quietude on a sealed pathway through the mulga scrub. At Simpsons Gap we spot black-footed rock wallabies so expertly camouflaged against the red rock that whole groups of tourists come and go without even noticing their presence.
Between bracing dips at Ellery Creek Big Hole where there’s a scenic bush campground too, we explore the Ochre Pit’s vibrant, striped cliffs, prized for their lustre and diversity of colours and mined by traditional owners for generations.
While it’s possible to coast through the West MacDonnell Ranges in a day or two, that would mean missing time on all those walking trails that get you deeper and expose more of the landscape you’ve travelled so far to see. Top of my list is the hike to Ormiston Pound lookout to peer into this incredible, cavernous abyss and take in the vast, mind-blowing views (1.5 hours return). If you have time and energy to spare, descend into the pound and loop back through Ormiston Gorge on a top half-day adventure followed by a hot shower in camp ($10/adult and $5/child).
With a loose itinerary you could catch sunset over the towering rock cliffs of Glen Helen Gorge and watch the rising sun ignite the rosy rock faces at Redbank Gorge, 25km west, a top spot for a sunny-day swim, floating on a pool toy 750 metres through Redbank’s twisting chasm of marbled red quartzite.